Down and Out at the Big Creepy House on the Poison Lake

by Shii

Magic realism
2009

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- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), November 15, 2013

- AmberShards (The Gothic South), July 25, 2010

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Likeable but Untested, March 30, 2009
by C.E.J. Pacian (England)

Down and Out, as I'll call it here for short, is a promising first work of IF: woefully untested, slightly hodgepodge, but well written and with several nifty features.

I really wanted to have reached the end of this game before posting a review, but after perhaps over an hour of trying everything I could think of, I have to admit that I'm stumped. And as you might expect with an untested first game, I'm not entirely convinced that the place I'm stuck is actually supposed to be a puzzle. On the plus side, in all this poking around I did uncover an ambitious attempt at simulation and - eventually - the game's rather nifty and involved central puzzle.

It's easy to look at this game and see a catalogue of rookie errors: unimplemented scenery, missing synonyms, actions you're prompted to take but which do nothing, weirdly phrased commands - (Spoiler - click to show)'strike match against matchbox' is required to progress, for example, while light match produces a very peculiar response, and no, you can't refer to it simply as a box. On top of that there are a few old-school bogeymen returning from the dark ages. There's a tight inventory limit that's all the more annoying because many commands require that you're holding objects, but don't go so far as to take them implicitly. This is a game about exploring a creepy house, but there's only a tangential hint not to enter the room that triggers the end-game - and a bad ending if you haven't completed that puzzle I mentioned earlier. Perhaps this all seems like a lot of marks against Down and Out, but really I think they just amount to one big one: lack of testing.

While the amnesiac premise may seem clichéd, and the back-story, as it's revealed, may hold up to little scrutiny, the game still manages a fair few imaginative flourishes, with its poison mists and gas-masked slave drivers. And perhaps what makes me most inclined to forgive Down and Out its sins is the writing - the parser speaks as a straightforward and slightly naïve first person narrator, with a few amusing changes to the default messages. Like the rest of the game, it's nothing too special, but it does hint at an author who - with more time and more testing - may well have good things to offer us in the future.



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